Remembering the World’s Oldest Person: Objects She Left Behind

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June 10, 2017 | 69,081 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Italian-born Emma Morano firmly believed she lived to be 117 years old because of her habit of eating three raw eggs daily and living a solitary life for nearly 80 years, but many other interesting factors may have played a part
  • Morano had fond memories, deep faith, loved her clocks and pets, kept a positive attitude and had a network of devoted friends and family, all factors that helped make her a centenarian
  • Completely self-sufficient until just a few years before her death, Morano took pride in hard work and respected her gut instincts

By Dr. Mercola

Emma Morano's claim to fame was much longer than 15 minutes, because when she died in April 2017, she was 117 years old. That gave her the interesting distinction as the last woman to have been born in the 1800s. In fact, 1899 was the same year Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first radio signal across the English Channel.

In some respects, Morano's uncommonly long life included its share of contradictions. The very thing that brought her the greatest recognition testified to the incongruities in her life. One thing she proved was that not every formula for longevity is a certainty. She should know. She bucked convention and ended up not only living longer than any of her contemporaries, but arguably everyone else on the planet for a short time. People often asked her how she'd managed to live so long. According to The New York Times:

"Ms. Morano has no doubts about how she made it this long: Her elixir for longevity consists of raw eggs, which she has been eating — three per day — since her teens when a doctor recommended them to counter anemia. Assuming she has been true to her word, Ms. Morano would have consumed around 100,000 eggs in her lifetime, give or take a thousand, cholesterol be damned."1

She was convinced that another reason she lived so long was because her troubled marriage ended in 1938 following the death of her 8-month-old son: She was determined to live a solitary life, and did so. Through the decades, despite a bevy of admirers (and she was a handsome, dignified woman) her reason for remaining on her own was simple and logical: "I didn't want to be dominated by anyone."2

Early Years: The Backdrop

Morano was born on November 29, 1899, in tiny Civiasco, Italy. Her family then moved to Villadossola, where cold, humid winters prompted doctors to suggest the young girl's health would improve in a warmer climate. Verbania, near Lake Maggiore, straddling Italy and Switzerland, wasn't far.

Her father, Giovanni, who worked in a foundry in nearby Villadossola, went blind when he got older. Her mother, Matilde, worked as well, crafting slippers by layering fabrics and cutting out the shape of a shoe. When she was old enough, Morano herself found a factory job where she made jute sacks.

In her later years, Morano enjoyed sharing small reminiscences of her youth, such as loving to dance, sneaking out with her sisters to a "dance hall" and their mother coming to look for them carrying a birch stick. Two of her sisters lived to venerable old ages as well, being 99 and 102 when they died. Instilling strength and character in their children were priorities for Morano's parents. One niece remarked, "All the sisters were determined." That was most evident after her divorce. The Times noted:

"Ms. Morano worked until she was 75, proud that she could pay for whatever she owned. After her separation from her husband, she had a bedroom set custom-made by a local furniture maker."3

Relatives remember Morano remarking, "I paid for it" or "I had it made." They also recall the pride she took in her home, even making paths from newspapers so visitors wouldn't track up her clean floors.

The Years in Between

Morano shared what she wanted and held her peace about the rest. She either didn't remember or chose not to relate details someone else might focus on. When people asked about Mussolini or the wars she'd lived through, she would shrug. A New York Times article noted:

"In her time, she has watched Italy evolve from a monarchy to a republic that spawned nearly 70 governments in seven decades, with a 20-year foray into Fascism in the middle. She survived two world wars, and the hardship of their aftermath; years of domestic terrorism, and years of economic prosperity that transformed Italy from an agrarian economy to one of the world's most industrialized nations."4

As for the years between, two years ago Morano summed up her life quite succinctly: "115 years are a lot." Morano spent her last 27 years in Pallanza, Italy, living in a tiny, church-owned apartment that she hadn't left since she was 102. One of her nieces came by each morning to prepare her meals for the day. The New York Times noted:

"She cooked for herself until she was 112, usually pasta to which she added raw ground beef. Until she was 115, she did not have live-in caregivers, and she laid out a place setting for herself at her small kitchen table at every meal."5

Legacy: What to Keep and What to Leave Behind

One of Morano's most exceptional qualities was her ability to embrace a life of simplicity. Her two-room, furnished apartment was simple and uncluttered except for a few keepsakes which, when she died, would likely be significant only to family members and close friends.

What did she hold on to? It's not out of the realm of conjecture that many uncomplicated but profound factors greatly influenced the length of Morano's life. Besides the strength, courage and spirit bequeathed by her family, she clung to her faith, followed her gut instincts, enjoyed simple pleasures and had a healthy respect for memories of her past.

Doctors and nutritionists will tell you that diet is a huge factor in someone's longevity. Morano kept an eye on hers and paid attention to what her body was telling her. In 2016, a New York Times article noted that Morano had modified her diet a bit, cutting out meat ("because she got it into her mind that it could lead to a tumor") as well as her egg intake to two per day. She also admitted to a fondness for bananas and cookies called ladyfingers.

She had another interesting idea about how to maintain her good health: She flatly refused any suggestion of going to a hospital the few times she was ill, even having blood transfusions and stitches done at home, said Dr. Carlo Bava, her doctor who took care of her since she turned 90 years old.

It's the Little Things That Make a (Long) Life

If there's anything that denotes hope for the future, it's a healthy dose of self-esteem, and perhaps a dash of vanity. That can be inferred by Morano's twice-daily routine of applying anti-aging moisturizer, which she kept in the drawer of her bedside stand. Those who knew her best said she applied it religiously.

She also had her hair done regularly while she still went out in public. When she was older and housebound, however, she huffed about the inconvenience of having to spiff up for visitors, which were frequent. She wore what she wanted. A typical outfit might be a sweater vest with red and black horizontal stripes over a blue flowered house dress.

Morano owned several clocks and loved hearing them chime. She also had a soft spot for animals, once owning a cat named Lola and a pet pigeon. She also had a habit of feeding other birds until the neighbors put a stop to it. Next to her bed were religious mementos, such as rosaries and a bust of Mary and Jesus, signifying a life of faith.

Over her bed, she kept a montage of old photographs of her parents, her five brothers and three sisters and one of her infant son, pinned to a lacy backdrop. At her request, her baby's photo was buried with her. Father Giuseppe Masseroni, himself 91 years old, shared at Morano's funeral:

"Those of us consumed by consumerism may have difficulty understanding Ms. Morano. We have too many things, too many distractions, too many items offered to us, too many messages, and a person like Emma struggles to emerge."6

Father Masseroni may have meant that, unlike the vast majority, Morano went against the grain in her simple lifestyle, experiencing no burning desire for modern trappings. Dr. Bava noted with admiration that his patient shouldered her increasing age-related aches and pains with grace and humor. Those may be some of the most valuable keepsakes of all.

How to Celebrate Life Past the Century Mark

Morano started getting more attention once she passed 110 years of age. Incredibly, another seven years rolled by. Her birthday celebrations took on more significance as it became clearer that for her, each day was truly a gift. Yes, she was aging, but her mind remained sharp and her health was considered excellent.

Numerous news outlets noted the candles she blew out, presents she opened and well-wishers eager to pose with her for photos. At least one reporter who asked Morano how she was doing was told not to make such a fuss. "Just say I'm doing fine." But at the same time, she was "amused" to be under such scrutiny from researchers from all over the world. They often traveled to sit by her bedside to scrutinize her lifestyle and genetics for clues to her long life.

While she lived alone up to the last few years of her life, Morano had a steady stream of visitors. She was gracious, but a relative confided that at times, guests overstayed and she became tired. "After a while she would turn to me and say in dialect, 'Are they ever going to leave?'" Afterward, she'd take a nap.

While humans have speculated for millennia about how to live longer, experts say there are dozens of factors that help contribute to it, from long-lived forebears to a careful diet. Some scientists contend, however, that a will to live and continued interest in and curiosity about the world around them may trump most other factors.

In fact, one study involving 100 seniors with the average age of 81 showed that those exposed to hidden messages including positive words such as "spry," "creative" or "fit" became physically stronger, while those exposed to negative words weakened.7

Most centenarians (people 100 years old or older) say they feel at least 20 years younger than their age. Experts answer that it has everything to do with their perception of themselves. When these peoples' blood pressure, skeletal mass, muscle power and overall fitness are measured, it indicates their probable life span more accurately than their chronological age.

Factors for Long Life

If you're looking for a way to lengthen your life, the best way to do that is to examine your diet, because, while most centenarians don't necessarily call themselves health nuts, they do understand the concept of real food. Most grew and made their own food, including real butter, beef, fruit and vegetables.

One interesting practice among oldsters in Okinawa, Japan, is called hara hachi bu, which means they eat only until they're 80 percent full, according to an article in Huffington Post.8 In fact, Japan has more centenarians — 15 percent of the total, in fact —than anywhere in the world.

Four vital nutrients important for a long life are vitamin D (best obtained from the sun), animal-based omega-3 fats, folate (vitamin B9) for brain and heart health, and magnesium for healthy neurons. These help ensure optimal brain health and help prevent dementia and cognitive decline. All four nutrients are low in the typical American diet, so getting enough of each should be intentional.

Morano's fond memories, strong opinions and "living in the now" approach to life served her well. Experts attribute longevity to positive relationships, which Morano had with the family she grew up with, her siblings and her nieces later in life, her neighbors and an adoring public. Science attests to this, as many people who live to ripe old ages report having positive relationships is just part of who they are. Statistics show there's a 50 percent likelihood of living longer when that's the case.9

Being a hard worker and lifelong learner are other factors, as well as dealing with stress. One study called the Longevity Project reported that these factors can predict a longer life.

"Studies suggest that it is a society with more conscientious and goal-oriented citizens, well-integrated into their communities, that is likely to be important to health and long life. These changes involve slow, step-by-step alterations that unfold across many years. But so does health. For example, connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program."10

Conscientious, helpful people, it turns out, tend to live longer. Research has indicated that people who volunteer, for instance, have lower anxiety and depression levels, which is healthier for your body as well as your mind.11

Simply having the ability to "get along" with the people you work with, live with and spend time with can have a significant impact on your longevity, and studies prove it. Further, conscientious people who view their work as important are more productive, and often work past the time "retirement" rolls around.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1, 4 New York Times February 14, 2015
  • 2 New York Times November 29, 2016
  • 3, 5, 6 New York Times April 20, 2017
  • 7 Psychological Science October 17, 2017
  • 8 Huffington Post May 20, 2014
  • 9 PLoS Med. 2010 July 27;7(7):e1000316
  • 10 American Psychological Association December 2011
  • 11 Soc Sci Med. 2003 Jan;56(2):259-69